It is now seven days since we launched The AIDS Memorial tee featuring a graphic created by Zach Grear' benefiting Housing Works at Adam's Nest. We have already raised in excess of $1000 for Housing Works and will be shipping t-shirts around the globe this week. I am overwhelmed by the response, but not surprised.
I have been following The AIDS Memorial since its early days in the Spring of 2016 and am always struck by the heartfelt tributes. Recently, I noticed a t-shirt popping up on the feed and realized it had been created by Zach. I was eager to purchase one for myself and support the memorial, as I feel it is important that we know our history and remember those that came before us. I was surprised to find that the tee was not yet for sale.
ZACH GREAR - The Artist wearing his own design
As a business owner operating an unabashedly queer business supporting queer artists and a variety of progressive and queer organizations it seemed like a no-brainer to link up with Stuart and Zach to get the tee available for sale. The wonder of social media and instagram messages enabled us to get from initial conversation to selling the t-shirt benefiting Housing Works in under 24 hours. Zach and Stuart managed to get t-shirts to Alan Cumming, Jack Mackenroth, John D'Amico, James Scully, Benjamin Fredrickson, John Hanning, Kevin Stea, Marc Malkin, Daniel Donigan, Nelson Santos, Steven Kolb, Ron Sese and many others in the community. You can see a few of them in the video below.
If you have yet to follow The AIDS Memorial on Instagram it is a must. It's followers "know how powerful and poignant the account is. One can’t help but be moved by daily tributes to those who succumbed to AIDS by people who loved them. These can be personal, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and painful – and most of the time, they are all at once. This digital archive allows us to reflect and remember a time of crisis and a disease for which a cure has yet to be found.
Behind this important record of a time of crisis is Stuart. Based in Scotland, he chooses to maintain a private profile in order to put the spotlight on those who lost their fight to AIDS. His hashtag is, after all, #whatisrememberedlives." Marc Karimzadeh, on the CFDA site
When you start to research the instagram account you quickly become aware of how many it has touched and how far the reach. From my brief acquaintance with Stuart it is evident how passionate he is in ensuring all those that have passed are remembered; #whatisrememberedlives. In his own words:
"I wanted to document these incredible stories that I had read about for many years. Not enough people talk about the history of AIDS, the deaths, and the impact on those left behind. So many people have passed away and have been forgotten. There are varying reasons why. Some reason I get. Others are just excuses. Who really wants to revisit the pain by raking up the past having lived it? AIDS was a taboo subject matter and sadly still is. It has always struck me how many accounts that relate to AIDS don’t actually remember the fallen in some form or if they do they’re celebrity driven. What they do in terms of fundraising is incredible. Yes there is a place for celebrities at parties in fancy frocks “raising awareness” but I feel there is a disconnect. I want to see the face of AIDS, those who perished, disowned, forgotten to be remembered. History doesn’t record itself and I feel a sense of duty to make that happen in some way. The account it just as important as a reminder to remember those who have passed but to also those left behind." From 'What Is Remembered Lives': How The AIDS Memorial Instagram Commemorates Crisis In A Digital Age, Otamere Guobadia, HISKIND.com
Below is just one example of the hundreds of posts you can read at The AIDS Memorial.
"David Harnish (1954 ― January 4, 1993) and I met in 1978 in Central Park. When he flashed his wide grin, I thought he looked like a very handsome camel. I quickly led him to my tiny oasis on the Upper West Side.
You didn’t have to know David very long before hearing all about Newton Falls, Ohio and his family. He would talk about the people he grew up with and especially his dog Smokey as if everyone in the world should be as familiar with them as he was. Pretty soon we were. Through sheer force of his personality, David made his hometown seem like the center of the universe.
The promise of “doing theater” lured David to Manhattan. And unlike many other kids with similar dreams, he refused to do anything else. David was never happier than when starting work on a new show. His early jobs didn’t pay much but that didn’t matter so long as he could build his resume, which grew longer and longer.
David began his career at the Lion Theater on West 42nd Street where he helped restore Theater Row. Later, he landed a job in the props department at the New York Shakespeare Festival (@publictheaterny) and graduated from Lester Polakof’s Studio of Stage and Set Design.
John Arnone, who won a Tony Award for Tommy, and Bob O’Hearn, a world-renowned set designer for the New York @metopera, were among his mentors.
David also designed sets for summer stock productions at the North Shore Music Theater and the Gateway Playhouse. Shortly before his death, he won an Emmy Award for set decoration on ‘As The World Turns’ - a soap opera.
We lived together only 5 years but I have loved David for nearly 40. Nobody can replace him. He vanished with our youth." ― by Jeffrey Hon"
While the AIDS Memorial remembers those that have passed it also allows others to express their own views of why they follow the page. One recent post from Rightor Doyle that struck me reads:
“In 2005, I moved to NYC. I was 22. After struggling with my sexuality my entire life, New York gave me the freedom to finally be myself. I partied, drank and had sex, lots of it. I moved into an apartment in the West Village alone. A little nest of a flat. My 13 year old self was creaming his acid-washed Lee jeans to know I was living my best fucking gay life.
One day, hungover and in need of a trim (and honestly a liver transplant) I stumbled across the street to my local barber. The hairstylist, a sweet, talkative 50 year old man began chatting my ear off. He went on endlessly about the rent going up in the neighborhood and how he couldn’t keep his place open for much longer. Engaging with him felt like too much for my deeply alcohol flooded brain. I tried to keep the conversation afloat by brattishly complaining about the ridiculous rent of my little shoebox of an apartment.
“Oh you live in 86 Perry?”
I nodded while responding to a text from a friend
re: last nights drunken slutty behavior.
“All my friends used to live there,” he went on.
“Oh. Did they get priced out of those expensive ass apartments too?”
“No.” He paused, “. . . they died.”
I looked up from my phone, suddenly breathless.
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
After my haircut, stunned and sobered, I walked back over to my apartment. I sat on my bed. I tried to imagine all the men who lived there before me. Who came to New York to be free, to be themselves, to get drunk and have sex and love and be loved.
A generation of men I would never know.
I follow @theaidsmemorial because I am lucky. Because the privilege of being born 15 years later than the men who lived in my apartment demands that I recognize the deep, complex, horrific, beautiful history of the those who fought and lived and died before me.
In world of self obsession and social media, @theaidsmemorial is the one account that reminds me of the pain and joy of living and the privilege of being alive. I get to meet these beautiful men and women and hear their stories. Maybe one of them lived in 86 Perry St, Apartment 5. Maybe I’ll get to know him.” ― by Rightor Doyle @rightordoyle, Actor & Writer.
Another recent post from Aisha Awadalla really hit upon many conversations that I have regularly when discussing the PrEP and SILENCE=DEATH t-shirts that Adam's Nest is selling benefiting the Ali Forney Center.
I follow @theaidsmemorial because the stubborn stigma around conversations about STDs leads to unnecessary fear and silence, which consequentially means that too many people don't get regularly tested and know their status.
People don't know their options or feel safe enough advocating for themselves to practice safe sex. Silence equals death for a lot of people. But silence is also systematically enforced within oppressed communities and we've needlessly lost way too many beautiful souls to AIDS. Also, as a Black woman, my demographic is disproportionately effected by high transmission rates. Visibility and awareness is key. Destroying homophobia, racism, and an engrained fear of sex is essential. If the lives lost aren't commemorated and celebrated then what are we fighting for?
Being sexual as a queer and/or brown person is revolutionary. We must remember these heroes. I'm a proud sex positive, bisexual slut who honors the importance of @theaidsmemorial."
Aisha Awadallah @aishaawadallah, Black Feminist, Artist & Birth Worker
These are just a few of the stories worth sharing. I have my own contributions to make to both instagram accounts managed by Stuart in due time. For now I'll occupy myself, folding t-shirts, fulfilling orders, and writing checks to Housing Works.
When thinking of the world we live in today, and living through the 80s and pondering how quickly things change, it seems SILENCE=DEATH will stand the test of time.